10 Things You Should Know About Rabbits

This is based on Episode 7, where we talked about things we would tell anyone considering rabbits as pets. Some of these you may have heard before, and some of them, perhaps not.

1. Bunnies Need Buddies

Rabbits are very social animals and need a(t least one) friend of their own species for company. Their friend will also keep them warm in winter, groom them to keep them clean and healthy, and reduce their stress. A study by the University of Bristol in association with the RSPCA (http://www.biomedcentral.com/1756-0500/7/942) & presented at the 2014 Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund (RWAF) Conference prioritised a companion rabbit as the most important welfare issue for rabbits today. 

Despite being recommended in the 1980s, guinea pigs are no longer considered suitable companions for rabbits, as they can be bullied by the rabbit, they don't have the same dietary requirements, they don't behave in the same ways, and there's a risk that the rabbit might pass on a disease called bordetella to the guinea pig.

2. Rabbits Are Long Term Commitments

Rabbits now have an expected lifespan of 10-12 years - this is shorter in giant breeds but still a long term commitment.

3. Rabbits Are Expensive

With vet bills/annual vaccinations/insurance/replacement toys/holiday boarding/hay/pellets and greens, the RSPCA estimate that a pair of rabbits would cost in the region of £1,550 plus initial set up costs (hutch/indoor pen/neutering/vaccinations) of approx £800. Over the lifetime of the rabbit, this comes to a huge £16,000! http://www.rspca.org.uk/ImageLocator/LocateAsset?asset=document&assetId=1232729413756&mode=prd

4. You Need To Spend Time With Your Bunnies

If you just feed the rabbits in their cage, and sometimes transfer them from hutch to run, you will find your rabbits very boring. It's essential to spend time with your rabbits, so you can see their personalities and behaviours. 

You should think about how this will happen before getting the rabbit as it will need to be a bunnyproof area. You won't want to sit in a run in the rain or snow, but if you bring your bunny in to an area which isn't bunnyproof, expect chewed wires and furniture. 

RSPCA recommend 10 hours per week - for feeding, cleaning, but probably an hour a day to get the know the rabbit and to let it get to know you.  http://www.rspca.org.uk/ImageLocator/LocateAsset?asset=document&assetId=1232729413756&mode=prd

You don't have to be constantly fussing them during this time, particularly when they're getting to know you. Just sit quietly with them, maybe reading a book, watching TV or listening to the All Ears podcast! - they will soon come over to see what's going on and start using you as a human climbing frame.

Rabbits are very quiet animals but can be very effective communicators so also check out the Language of Lagomorphs website http://language.rabbitspeak.com/, and pay attention to your bunnies' body language.  

Knowing your rabbits and their engaging personalities will also help motivate you when it's time to change the litter tray in a howling gale, or when you really want  lie-in but know the bunnies will be expecting their breakfast!

5. Let The Rescues Do The Hard Work

If you buy a rabbit from a pet shop or breeder, you will have to neuter it, and bond it with a friend. 

Neutering sounds straightforward, but particularly post-spay, you feel so sorry for your doe -and so worried that she won't get through it, or ever eat again. But neutering is essential as 80% of does contract uterine cancer by the age of 4 years, and neutering reduces a lot of territorial and hormonal behaviour. 

Then you have to bond or re-bond your bunnies - which involves a lot of chasing and biting and humping so is also stressful for the bunnyslave. 

Also, rescues will find your bunny a partner it gets on with, and they have so many unwanted litters with beautiful babies that they bring up really well, handled and confident from a young age - as opposed to pet store bunnies who can often develop snuffles, or pasteurella from the stress of being transported and moved away from home so young. 

A rescue will also advise on good local vets, good accommodation, bunny proofing, and have lots of social events where you can meet other bunny slaves and share stories and advice.  And you get a warm fluffy feeling from knowing you saved a life.

6. Rabbits Are Strong Willed

Rabbits are really smart and can learn a lot if you have the patience to teach them and they have the inclination. But bunnies are prey animals, not pack animals like dogs, so they're not constantly seeking your approval, which makes them much harder to train. 

They can enjoy toys and solving problems, so can learn tricks - you'll be amazed by the bunny in this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SbxqVtWj9c0&t=11

However, if a rabbit is healthy, and neutered, and there's no other groups of rabbits around (which can make them territorial) they can very easily be litter trained, as they are very clean animals and will generally choose where their toilet spot will be. Note - they will choose, you just have to make sure that's where you put the litter tray…

7. Don't Believe Everything You're Told

Pet shops regularly mis-sex bunnies. Reputable manufacturer and retailers sell tiny cages as suitable for rabbits, when they're really not, along with bunny treats full of dairy, sugar and corn which aren't suitable for bunnies and can cause problems with their digestion. Most vets only get 2 weeks of training in exotics (bunnies are calssed as exotics). 

Make sure you know your bunnies and can tell if they're not themselves. Make sure you have a variety of information sources so you can evaluate what feels right - books, websites, groups, friends from rescues/RWAF hopper groups . 

Bunnies can go downhill very quickly if they’re not well, so as soon as you notice anything, however small, something as simple as your bunny doesn't seem itself or isn't eating, contact your vet immediately. Remember - it costs nothing to phone your vet - even out of hours. They are more likely to know if it's an emergency than someone on facebook. 

8. Rabbits Need Space

In the wild, rabbits run the equivalent of 30 football pitches in a day! So a 4ft hutch is not enough. The RWAF recommend a 6ft x 2ft x 2ft hutch attached to an 8ft x 4ft x 2ft run as a minimum (http://www.rabbitwelfare.co.uk/ahutchisnotenough.htm) and have a list of retailers providing suitable accommodation http://www.rabbitwelfare.co.uk/walloffame.htm. You will see the benefit of giving your rabbits space as they will have fewer aches and pains from being able to stretch and move, so be less grumpy and territorial and more entertaining as they exhibit natural behaviours such as binkies and bunny 500s 

9. Hay

Hay is another critical factor in a rabbits life and is the way to keep your bunnies healthy and happy. It keeps the rabbit's gut healthy, and teeth short, reducing the likelihood fo expensive vet bits and an ill rabbit. It also keeps the rabbit occupied, so they're less likely to get bored and take up antisocial habits such as chewing their cage bars or furniture. Their diet should be 80% hay, and according to a study that bunny supervet Elisabetta Mancinelli mentioned at the 2014 RWAF Conference, feeding multiple types of hay gives your bunny the best coverage of nutrients. It also means than when your rabbits decide they don't like a particular hay any more, you have another type in stock to tempt them with.

http://www.therabbithouse.com/diet/ is a good site to look at your rabbits' diet and seeing what foods are suitable. With respect to dry food, muesli is a huge contributor to dental disease in rabbits, as they are selective feeders and only eat the nice buts, so still to a pellet such as Science Selective, Fibafirst, Burgess Excel or Oxbow Bunny Basics.

Oh - and feeding a rabbit a carrot is like giving a child 10 cheeseburgers! It won't kill him, but it's not great for long term health. A small, 10p sized piece as a treat is more than enough.

10. Rabbit Are Not A Child's Pet

Rabbits are often though of as an easy starter pet for children, to teach them some responsibility, and because they look so cute. Children can't evaluate whether they're ready for a 10 year commitment, or the impact of having a rabbit when they move out, go to University or get a job. Children may be able to buy pellets and greens, but generally can't afford the insurance or vet bills that the rabbit may need. Also rabbits hate to be picked up and cuddled.

If you do decide that a pair of rabbits are right for your family, an adult must be ultimately responsible for the rabbits - for health checking them on a daily basis and picking up on any illness or changes in behaviour. The adult must also be prepared to give the rabbits commit the time to giving the rabbits a life of enrichment when the child gets bored. The child should be encouraged to interact with the rabbits on their level - to sit quietly with them and let the rabbits come to them. This will enable the child to build a deeper relationship with the rabbits, respect them more, and be less likely to get bored with the rabbits. Picking the rabbits up can lead to either child or rabbit being injured when the rabbit struggles as it does not feel secure or like being picked up.


What advice would you give to someone considering a rabbit? Or what do you wish you had been told when you got your rabbits?